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Only When He Laughs

May 2024
1min read

There is nothing amusing about wounds, especially those suffered in battle. But Major General Henry A. Barnum clearly carried his with panache. Wounded in the left side at Malvern Hill in 1862 during the Civil War, he was left for dead on the battlefield. His relatives back home in Syracuse, New York, were given the bad news, and his funeral was preached. But Barnum had endured—to be captured, sent to Libby Prison, and exchanged. His wound never healed, however, and Dr. John K.

 
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There is nothing amusing about wounds, especially those suffered in battle. But Major General Henry A. Barnum clearly carried his with panache. Wounded in the left side at Malvern Hill in 1862 during the Civil War, he was left for dead on the battlefield. His relatives back home in Syracuse, New York, were given the bad news, and his funeral was preached. But Barnum had endured—to be captured, sent to Libby Prison, and exchanged. His wound never healed, however, and Dr. John K. Lattimer of the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, who sent us this picture, thinks he knows why: “Major General Barnum was obviously a well-fed general,” he writes, “with a lucky layer of extra fat under his skin.… The bullet that struck him in the left front of his abdomen obviously ran around his body outside the tough muscle layers … exiting in the rear. The skin grew down into each end of the bullet tract, the way it does when a woman’s ears are pierced. By running a ramrod through the wound it was kept open.” Despite this considerable handicap, Barnum returned to the front, receiving a bullet in the right forearm at Lookout Mountain and another in the right side at Peach Tree Creek. Somehow he survived them all, and lived on, dressing his original wound three or four times a day, until his death in 1892—from pneumonia.

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